I sold my first drawing at the age of just 15 whilst growing up in Saddleworth, near Oldham. Despite my obvious artistic abilities, the next 30 years saw me reading Architecture at Cambridge and Sheffield Universities and subsequently working in architectural conservation, sales, insurance, horse feeds, equestrian supplies and even dealing in antique aircraft spares! Whilst I had kept my eye in over those years, it wasn’t until 2006 that I finally decided enough was enough and went back to my childhood love of painting and drawing, this time as a full time professional. It was no coincidence that my passion for heavy horses led to me immediately concentrating on painting horses.

In just eight short years since becoming a full time professional, I have rapidly established a reputation as one of the North’s leading specialist horse and dog portrait artists, and my stall is now a familiar sight at Horse Trials and shows all over the North. Following a brief spell at Aintree, in late 2011 I was invited to become Artist in Residence at Ripon Racecourse.

Horses and art are not my only passion however. These days, my spare time is largely taken up with Roman archaeology, especially research into Roman roads, so there are times when you are as likely to see a trowel in my hand as a pencil!

DrivingHarvey and a Bamford’s Lion Swath Turner

Finished work on my stand at Aintree Racecourse Racecourse

Each portrait starts with the animal itself. Every horse or dog is unique, and seeing and studying each subject makes it easier for me to pick up on its individuality and character. I take my own photographs (often up to 200 of each subject), using them in the same way as sketches, recording how each individual looks in different lights, and at different angles. Of course, it isn’t always possible for me to get to visit each subject, and I will always consider working from a customer’s own photographs, and I’ll even give you some pointers on how to take your own photographs. Only when I’m sure that I have all the photos I need, can I start to put an image down on paper.

I have developed and refined my technique over the years, building up layer upon layer of colour, starting with a combination of soft and hard pastel, then adding more layers of pastel pencil  to give texture and fine detail. The colours used have been carefully selected from the ranges of seven different manufacturers across Europe for their ability to accurately represent the natural tones of a horse’s coat, as well as ensuring that the pigments are fully lightfast, so that the finished work will not fade.

A couple of years ago I started using a specialist pastel paper - Fisher 400, developed by pastel artist Tim Fisher from Leicestershire and I have never looked back. The fine abrasive surface gives excellent colour saturation (better than any other paper available) and holds multiple layers of pastel and pastel pencil without appearing dirty. Once complete, each portrait is given a protective coating of fixative; French, just to complete the cosmopolitan nature of my materials! Finally, the portrait is finished off with a double mount (professional white core so it doesn’t yellow with age) and then framed under glass using an antiqued pine moulding.

About MikeAbout Mike’s Work

In the studio

Whilst most of my work are head and neck studies, I will of course consider just about any subject, whether that be putting several animals together on the same work, or setting horses, dogs or the occasional bull in the landscape. I have also undertaken many jumping studies of horse and rider, including work for Yorkshire riders Paul Barker and Vicky Dennis. Take a look at my galleries for examples.

In the field